After years of foolishly running my online business via public WiFi, I decided to start using a VPN to secure my communications (and access a bit of out of market sporting events while traveling).
But I found out that finding the right VPN to suit my needs was a bit complicated. There’s no such thing as a general “best” VPN – instead, they all have to make tradeoffs that fit many but not all needs. ExpressVPN and AirVPN were two that I looked at closely.
I reviewed ExpressVPN here and reviewed AirVPN here. I combined my notes from those posts to write this ExpressVPN vs. AirVPN post around the most common VPN considerations. You can skip to my conclusion here.
But first, here’s a bit of background.
ExpressVPN is one of the largest and most well-known VPNs. They are based in the British Virgin Islands and were founded in 2009.
AirVPN is based Italy and operated “by activists and hacktivists in defense of net neutrality, privacy and against censorship.” They were founded in 2010 as a free service.
They both have advantages & disadvantages in my experience. This ExpressVPN vs. AirVPN comparison will look at each VPN based on pricing, features, performance, usability, customer service, and market focus.
Disclosure – I receive referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All opinions and data are based on my experience as a paying customer performing independent research.
Both AirVPN and ExpressVPN offer a good range of options to meet the needs of most users and their budgets.
ExpressVPN has fewer options than AirVPN, but it does include 1-month, 6-month, and 12-month subscriptions. AirVPN has the same increments, with an additional 3-month subscription and a unique 3-day subscription.
The 3-day subscription with AirVPN is a great option to use as a trial to test the waters, and it’s perfect for those who need a temporary service while on business.
Alternatively, ExpressVPN allows users a full 30-day money back guarantee if they aren’t satisfied with its service. Regardless of the subscription you choose, if you decide you don’t like the ExpressVPN service, contact customer service 24/7 to get your full payment reimbursed. It’s an excellent protection to have and offers a bit more security than AirVPN’s 3-day trial.
Here’s a breakdown of how the pricing works for both providers:
|3-day||1€ (~$1.06 )||Not available|
|1-month||7€ (~$7.44 )||$12.95|
|3-months||15€ (~$15.94 )||Not available|
|6-months||30€ (~$31.89 )||$59.95|
|12-months||54€ (~$57.40 )||$99.95|
ExpressVPN is considerably more expensive than AirVPN on nearly every tier.
It’s also important to note that both services offer significant discounts for longer subscriptions, especially a 12-month subscription. With AirVPN, you’ll save almost $32 per year, and ExpressVPN’s 12-month subscription saves you approximately $56 per year. Here’s their respective pricing tables –
If you expect to attend several business trips during the year, it might be worth considering an annual subscription for either service. You can always benefit from using it for your personal needs, too.
Both services provide a wide range of payment options including BitCoin, PayPal, and international payments.
As a general rule, AirVPN is going to be a better choice for anyone who prioritizes price above all else. That said, price isn’t everything, especially in the world of VPNs. You’ll usually “get what you pay for” so let’s look at other considerations.
Features and Customization
One of the most important things to consider with a VPN service is its unique features that allow further customization. What features does it provide that let you customize your VPN experience the way you need it?
For business owners who are frequent travelers, it’s crucial to have reliable security, consistent uptime, and convenient connections across the globe. You should also be able to simultaneously connect devices like your mobile phone, laptop, and tablet, so you don’t have to disconnect one to connect with another.
For gamers, it’s important to have a range of device connections for routers, consoles, etc in addition to protocol options to trade some privacy for performance.
Fortunately, both ExpressVPN and AirVPN offers some of the best features and customization options for you to get a great experience from your service.
Both providers let you connect up to five devices at a time. So, you can always stay connected to the internet through your VPN during conferences or in your hotel room.
AirVPN and ExpressVPN are both well-known for their dedication to keeping your information safe. Neither one keeps logs of your internet usage or history, nor do they store any personal identifying information.
Caveat – Note that no VPN is 100% secure. Your traffic is still routing through a company. Any company can go out of business or go rogue. If you are trying to avoid your American ISP – then you are simply replacing distrust of Comcast/Charter with the trust of your VPN. If you are a political activist where trust is a life or death situation, you need to be using something like Tor. This is a segue to ExpressVPN’s / AirVPN’s unique features, but the point remains using a VPN does not instantly create security/privacy. That is something you do via aligning company incentives (ie, paying for companies who maintain security) & being proactive.
AirVPN keeps no logs or data at all from your connection. They use node transparency to try to help users stabilize their network. AirVPN was founded by “hacktivists” and has privacy considerations at the heart of their company mission. They offer a wide-range of privacy focused features and options to tweak nearly every part of your connection. Here’s their features list –
On the flip side – they also have *a lot* of knobs to turn (which will factor into usability in a moment).
ExpressVPN, however, does keep connection logs that show the choice of server connection with a time stamp to keep network performance at high levels. But, there’s no identifying information recorded. ExpressVPN offers a range of options to customize your connection but in general, they try to optimize your experience on their end to provide a more convenient setup. Here’s a screenshot of their app’s options:
Both VPN services are also similar in their more advanced features, like unblocking services typically blocked in certain locations, such as Netflix. With ExpressVPN, you can do this with Smart DNS, which is separate, but faster, from a VPN. Smart DNS geo-spoofs your location to get around the block.
AirVPN does this through its VPN, which may slow down your connection a bit, but it still works well.
Both AirVPN and ExpressVPN provide Tor through VPN for anyone who needs convenient but maximum privacy.
If you want a maximum feature set & customization options, then AirVPN is your choice. If you want a feature set biased towards everyday use & convenience, then ExpressVPN is you choice here.
Performance and Speed
Speed should be a definite factor in choosing between two VPN services like ExpressVPN vs AirVPN.
It’s important to remember that AirVPN is a much smaller company than ExpressVPN and therefore doesn’t have as many available servers and locations. It still has 80 servers in 18 countries, which is excellent for a smaller company, but it doesn’t compare to ExpressVPN’s 145 (and growing!) server cities in 94 countries.
What does this mean for you? Your speed can vary widely between the two depending on your exact location in the world, your country connection needs (ie, UK connections for BBC access), and your reliability needs.
The more server selections a VPN has, the more chances you have to find a server that provides you optimal speed and performance wherever you are. Performance is of particular importance when you’re traveling to new locations.
Here’s a screenshot of AirVPN’s location options screen –
Here’s ExpressVPN’s –
Note how ExpressVPN encourages “smart location” to automatically balance their server connections whereas AirVPN just gives you the data so you can sort & choose. It’s a good contrast between their respective approaches.
Additionally – remember that AirVPN keeps no server logs at all – so they have no information with which to balance or optimize their network. That might be a good thing for you – it might not. ExpressVPN keeps connection and bandwidth logs to balance and optimize their network.
Although AirVPN’s speed isn’t necessarily lacking, it does depend on the server you use and you’re much more limited in options for server combinations that work well for you. In several AirVPN tests I conducted, it’s apparent that using non-local servers can significantly bring down your speeds.
Here’s my baseline Internet speed with no VPN.
Here’s a typical initial connection with AirVPN.
But after a couple tries, I’ll usually get a connection that hits just over 50% of my non-VPN speeds.
ExpressVPN’s user tests show a good speed consistency between local and non-local servers, which means that you have plenty of options for choosing server combinations without slowing down your connection.
Here’s a typical VPN connection –
Latency is a bit high, but bandwidth is consistently around 80% of my non-VPN Internet speeds. International connections are also very stable. I was able to stream BBC One in HD with my UK connection.
AirVPN does well on speed if you factor in their reduced server coverage and their no log policy. However, on a head to head performance comparison, ExpressVPN is a much better choice.
A product is worthless if you don’t actually use it. And that idea is especially true with VPNs. If a VPN is so much of a hassle that you never use it – then even the most secure VPN is worthless.
According to customers on social & their own support forums, both AirVPN and ExpressVPN offer easy setup and excellent flexibility when it comes to tweaking options within their clients.
But, delving a bit further into the customer base of the two providers brought me to an interesting conclusion: ExpressVPN users seem to lean more toward VPN beginners & “convenience users”, while AirVPN users appear to have more advanced expertise.
So, they’re finding them equally as user-friendly, but the groups, in general, have different technical knowledge and experience. This is critical for purchasing decisions.
AirVPN’s client, Eddie, is incredibly full-featured. It offers just about every basic and advanced option you could want, like port forwarding, server switches, and in-depth statistics. It’s simple to download and set up on any device, but it gets tricky after that. I’m very adept with software, but found it a bit maddening after awhile. I covered this issue in my AirVPN review, but here’s a few example screenshots.
If you’re not extremely technical and are looking for more of a ‘plug-and-play’-type setup, Eddie / AirVPN isn’t for you. Those with more advanced VPN expertise, however, can benefit from its features.
ExpressVPN, on the other hand, provides a super simple app with a clean, streamlined interface. Users can download and set it up within minutes and hit a button to connect. Options range from basic to advanced, and the app even explains a bit about each feature to help you along the way.
Here’s the screen after payment.
Here’s the app.
ExpressVPN provides a more basic, minimalist app approach for those who want the quickest setup and sign-on. It’s convenient, quick, and straightforward.
But, AirVPN’s client offers an excellent range of features for those who don’t mind delving a bit deeper into the technical jargon.
Both ExpressVPN and AirVPN seem to excel in the customer service department. This is one of the most important things to consider as a business owner. The last thing you want to worry about is dealing with VPN issues on your own when you’re busy with more important things.
AirVPN is a small company, but it has one of the strongest communities I’ve seen in a VPN provider. On its website, you’ll find forums where it’s tight-knit community of customers and technical experts gather to help each other get the most from the AirVPN service.
Those on the forums are quick to answer questions and provide suggestions to members. AirVPN staff also hang around there, ready to confront any issues you might have. Additionally, its support team is available through its support ticket area 24/7. Customer reviews point out that their problems typically get resolved very quickly with the ticket system.
ExpressVPN has a similarly stellar customer service system that ranks it high above other VPN providers. The company prides itself on its 24/7 support system, including a contact form, direct e-mail, and 24/7 live chat options. They even have a way to export your error log directly to support so that you don’t have to troubleshoot.
Alternatively, you can check out ExpressVPN’s extensive knowledge database of support and troubleshooting guides if you run into any trouble.
Both VPNs can, undoubtedly, quickly get you back up and running so you can get back to business. The contrast is that AirVPN relies on a lean staff + volunteers, a DIY ethic, and forum help. ExpressVPN takes a more traditional approach to customer support. The difference is whichever you feel more comfortable with.
This area is one where you’ll likely notice differences in these VPN providers. Although they’re both excellent choices for anyone who wants the highest security with optional features to customize their experience, AirVPN seems to be more focused on the techie VPN user than ExpressVPN.
AirVPN’s terminology can be overwhelming for a new VPN user. ExpressVPN seems to use a more straightforward approach and is much less technical than AirVPN.
Business owners who aren’t super tech-savvy will likely find more ease and comfort in the ExpressVPN service and client. AirVPN’s client has a much heavier expert focus that can seem more excessive than helpful.
ExpressVPN is tailored more toward people who want the quickest setup and basic features. They can gradually delve into more advanced features at their pace. AirVPN is geared more toward those who already have a sound knowledge of VPNs and their most advanced features and isn’t the best choice for beginners.
Other Factors to Consider
Are you still torn? Here are a few other things to consider about these services that may help you make up your mind:
- AirVPN provides a fail-proof way to test it out. For just a little over $1 for three days, you can get full access to all its features and benefits to decide if you like it or not.
- Both providers are popular for what they claim to do. ExpressVPN is fully-featured and straightforward to use, and AirVPN provides full customization for those with moderate to advanced knowledge and expertise.
- ExpressVPN has an extensive customer service team with 24/7 service through live chat. AirVPN is known more for its helpful community, but it has a smaller team that may not be able to provide help as quickly.
- AirVPN has an open source client that allows users to monitor the source code at any time to ensure that no shady activity occurs.
- ExpressVPN offers a great referral program that gives you 30 days of free service for referring your friends to a subscription.
- ExpressVPN is one of the most established brand names in the industry. If you trust services that are popular with other users, then ExpressVPN is a good choice.
Conclusion: ExpressVPN vs AirVPN
It’s safe to say that both ExpressVPN and AirVPN are incredible options for those who need the security of a VPN. AirVPN is a newer and smaller company, so it doesn’t have quite the same recognition of ExpressVPN, but it certainly has the security features you’d expect from a VPN provider.
If you want all the technical features available with no logging whatsoever and a small company ethic, then go sign up with AirVPN here.
If you want a well-known VPN with simple, highly usable features along with consistent performance and server options, then go sign up with ExpressVPN here.
Whichever one is best for you – kudos on taking steps to secure your digital life :)